Joshua and Kenna Sheak met in UNM's Combined BA/MD Program
Joshua and Kenna Sheak pursue medicine in UNM's Combined BA/MD Program
Credit: Furhana Afrid

Joshua and Kenna Sheak fell in love and tied the knot while pursuing careers in medicine in UNM’s Combined BA/MD Program.

“We were spending a lot of time together and became good friends,” says Joshua, who along with Kenna enrolled in the program when it launched in 2006.

The program – a collaboration between the UNM College of Arts and Sciences and the UNM School of Medicine – seeks to mitigate the state’s persistent physician shortage. 

Joshua and Kenna are among more than 300 students from diverse backgrounds who have enrolled in the program over the past decade.

As they celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, they are also reflecting on the impetus that brought them together.

“We both have strong ties and a commitment to our state,” says Joshua, a Farmington native and a graduate student in UNM’s MD/PhD program.

Josh was propelled toward medicine as he observed a medical team provide care for his grandfather, Sam Ford, who suffered from leukemia. “I really wanted to help him and I couldn’t make it better,” he says. “I felt powerless.”

Kenna, a Grants native, is a resident in UNM’s Department of Pediatrics. “It’s rewarding to work with kids and learn from their families,” she says.

Her motivation to pursue medicine arose from watching patients interact with her mother, Glenna Yellowhead-Losito, a nurse at Cibola General Hospital.

“A lot of people talked to her about how she was the best nurse,” she says. "They appreciated her help in getting them through difficult experiences.”

Early on in the BA/MD program, the Sheaks shadowed physicians while visiting New Mexico’s rural communities and observed the vast gaps in health care. “I understand what the state needs,” Kenna says.

“There is a lot that the program opened our eyes to that I wouldn’t have considered,” Josh says. The curriculum included studies in the economics of medicine, narrative medicine and medicine in a cultural context.

They say the dire need for health care providers is hurting rural communities – and in particular Native Americans living on the reservation. “Our ultimate goal is to end up in New Mexico and give back to our communities,” Kenna says. ‘We need physicians.”

The Sheaks hope that by choosing a career in medicine they’ve encouraged other Native American to follow in their footsteps.

“Careers in science and medicine are possible,” Josh says. “Giving back to the community is not fiction.”

More than 40 students from the Combined BA/MD Program have graduated from medical school. Five have already completed their residencies and are practicing medicine in New Mexico.

New Mexico high school seniors interested in pursuing the program can call (505)-925-4500 or visit http://som.unm.edu/education/md/bamd/